Gender equality taskforce formed to overhaul Irish higher education

6 Nov 2017

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The Government hopes to aid in efforts to promote better inclusivity in third-level education with the formation of a gender equality taskforce.

Launched by Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, a new gender equality taskforce will conduct a review of the hiring practices of many third-level institutions, with a focus on a three-year action plan, according to RTÉ News.

Earlier this year, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) issued a report calling for the introduction of a taskforce as women continue to face discrimination in many Irish universities, with just 29pc of associate professors being women.

Chaired by Marie O’Connor, former financial services partner at PwC, the taskforce will also feature IT Carlow president Dr Patricia Mulcahy and Irish Congress of Trade Unions president Sheila Nunan.

The taskforce’s role will be to enforce the national review and recommendations made by the HEA.

This includes the threat that institutes not compliant with the Athena SWAN initiative – which requires institutions to have at least 40pc women representation across the board – will lose their State funding.

‘Nowhere to hide now’

Speaking before its launch, O’Connor said that the Government is going to come down hard on third-level institutions who don’t comply.

“We need to send a message loud and clear to the institutions,” she said. “There is nowhere to hide now. We want to see results. And there will be penalties.”

Irish Research Council chair Prof Jane Ohlmeyer has welcomed the news, saying it is timely considering the very public challenges faced by women in multiple sectors.

“It is a timely development. Over the past month alone, the discrimination and challenges faced by women across a range of sectors has been very publicly highlighted, both in Ireland and further afield,” Ohlmeyer said.

She went on to highlight the introduction of a gender-blind assessment for funding awards in 2014 as an example of affirmative action.

“When the assessment was not anonymised in 2013, women represented only 35pc of awardees, in comparison to 43pc of applicants.

“After the applications were anonymised, the number of women receiving awards rose to 44pc in 2014 and 45pc in 2015.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic